One Dallas Cowboys insider predicts a big jump in contribution from a player who was on the practice squad all of last season.
During the upcoming NFL Draft, one of the positions the Dallas Cowboys front office will need to eye very closely is tight end. Although they currently have a future Hall of Famer at the position in Jason Witten, the veteran turns 35-years old in May.
The 10-time Pro Bowler is in the final season of a five-year, $37 million deal he inked back in 2011. And Witten has gone on record saying he doesn’t believe he’ll sign an extension this offseason, opting rather to take things “one year at a time”.
If you are the Cowboys, that answer is not likely not very reassuring. And the time is now to make sure Witten’s predecessor is in place to learn from the 14-year veteran before he hangs up his cleats.
Currently on the depth chart behind Witten are James Hanna and Geoff Swaim. It’s unlikely Dallas views either as future starters. And former second round selection Gavin Escobar, who was once thought to be a possible future candidate for the staring role, is now a free agent.
So it’s little wonder that some have speculated that the Cowboys could be in the market to add a young, talented tight end prospect early in the upcoming draft. But according to one Cowboys insider, they may not have to do that. In fact, Witten’s possible successor might just be right under their collective noses…on their own practice squad.
"“I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Rico Gathers was the player on this roster that makes the biggest jump contribution wise from last season to next season,” DallasCowboys.com football analyst Bryan Broaddus revealed on the team’s official website recently. “One of the best things to happen to Gathers was that he had the opportunity to work with Tony Romo…Each week Gathers improved even to the point where in the final couple of weeks of the season he was getting snaps with the first offense.”"
Broaddus went on to explain how Romo insisted on throwing Gathers the ball regardless of coverage. And that the combo simply wore out the Cowboys defensive secondary together.
Not having play organized football since middle school, Gathers is attempting to make the difficult transition from the basketball court straight to the NFL. At least the former Baylor basketball star has a blueprint to follow with other successful tight ends like the San Diego Chargers’ Antonio Gates and the Seattle Seahawks’ Jimmy Graham blazing a trail before him.
Gathers spent all of last season on the practice squad, learning from legendary tight ends coach Mike Pope. Due to injury, former starting quarterback Tony Romo led the scout team to prepare the Cowboys during practice sessions in the latter half of the regular season. Romo’s time spent with the rookie was likely invaluable to his growth.
Physically, the 6-foot-6, 290 pound is a massive red zone target who knows how to box out defenders. But due to his lack of football experience, the mental learning curve was an enormous undertaking for the 22-year old last season. If Gathers can crack the mental aspects of the game this offseason, there is a real chance he could have a big impact in 2017.